NEW DELHI / BHUTAN – Next week, Nepal’s President, Bidhya Devi Bhandari, is expected to sign a bill which will severely restrict religious freedom in her country. On 8 August, the Nepali Parliament passed legislation criminalizing religious conversion and the hurting of religious feelings. Human rights groups now fear a crackdown on religious minorities, curbing their right to freely worship. These concerns are not baseless as 8 Christians were arrested in 2016 because they shared a comic book on Jesus with children.
“Every person should have the right to live out their faith freely. The new anti-religious freedom laws that Nepal’s government wants to adopt do not comply with international law and the human rights treaties the country has signed. The fundamental right to religious freedom includes the practice and sharing of a belief. The president should veto this new bill and allow her citizens to enjoy basic human rights. No one in Nepal should have to fear persecution because of their religious convictions,” said Tehmina Arora, Legal Counsel and Director of ADF India, who is an expert in human rights law.
Rising hostility against Christians and other religious minorities
The new bill is similar to blasphemy laws in Pakistan, where it is punishable by law to insult another’s religion. These vaguely defined laws are often abused to harass minorities. The proposed law also restricts conversions. Even speaking about a certain religion in public regardless the circumstances could be problematic and interpreted as an attempt of missionary activity. In India, similar laws have been widely used against Christians and Muslims disregarding their constitutional rights to freedom of worship. While the Indian constitution is very clear on protecting religious freedom, Nepal’s recently promulgated constitution prohibits the attempt of religious conversion. At the same time, Nepal is a signatory to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, an international treaty explicitly protecting freedom of religion and expression.
“Nepal is a religious country with a strong tradition. The government should not be afraid of minorities but allow diversity, which strengthens an open society. International law and the human rights treaties the country has signed protect religious minorities. They explicitly allow conversion, missionary work, and public worship. Nepal risks to return to a totalitarian society in which individual rights are being severely curbed. The international community should not accept the introduction of a law that abolishes the basic human right to freely live one’s faith,” Arora added.